Show Details

Four-Legged Snakes

July 28, 2015

A fossil of a four-legged snake links snakes with their lizard ancestors.



The four-legged snake Tetrapodophis amplectus subdues a gondwanatherian mammal.  Julius T. Cstonyi

Artist’s depiction of the four-legged snake Tetrapodophis amplectus subduing a mammal. (Julius T. Cstonyi)

A four-legged snake. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A fossilized four-legged snake sat, unappreciated, in a museum for years until University of Portsmouth paleobiologist David Martill noticed it and told paleontologist Nicholas Longrich, at University of Bath. At first, Longrich doubted it could really be a fossil representing the evolutionary step from lizards to snakes.

NICHOLAS LONGRICH (University of Bath):

The odds of finding it seemed so ridiculously small I thought it was pretty unlikely it was actually a snake.


But seeing the complete skeleton convinced him.


You could look at the entire thing and just see snake-like features in the jaws, in the teeth, in the vertebrae, in the proportions, and even preserved scales.


In the journal Science, the researchers describe how the Cretaceous period snake likely used its long-fingered limbs to grasp prey. The skeleton also provides evidence that snakes descended from land, rather than marine, animals. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.